Gavin Newsom was reelected governor, which was expected, and Democrats avoided a midterm drubbing, which was not.
As 2022 takes its place in the book of memories, political columnist Mark Z. Barabak looks back on the year with California columnist Anita Chabria. The two even venture a few predictions about what 2023 might bring.
Barabak: So, Anita, other than the fact we’re both still gainfully employed, what was your biggest surprise this year?
Chabria: Honestly, the fact that I get a paycheck for this amazes me every two weeks. Can’t wait for the emails agreeing with me on that.
In the wider world, the rise in hate and hate-inspired violence shocked me. Across California and the nation, we saw angry, and in some cases armed, conservatives, threatening transgender people, protesting access to reproductive care, attacking educators for teaching about race and diversity. Killers in Colorado and New York targeted victims based on sexual identity and race.
In California, members of the Proud Boys repeatedly stormed drag queen events and a hammer-wielding conspiracy theorist attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband in their home.
In Los Angeles, a group of anti-Semites stood on a 405 overpass giving a Nazi salute and holding a banner reading, “Kanye is right about the Jews.” That ugliness needs to be remembered, because forgetting is acceptance. That’s my cheerful start to the New Year, and you’re welcome.
What surprised you?
Barabak: Excuse me while I go dig a hole and bury myself.
… There, that’s better.
Seriously, not to make light, there was a lot of awful out there. In fact, I wrote an election day column that was pretty grim, speaking with historians and others on how today’s unsettling times compare with other bleak periods in our history. And then, lo, voters pulled us back from the brink.
Or, put another way, they stood up for democracy and prevented the country from crossing over into a very dark and dangerous place. High-profile candidates who parroted former President Trump’s “Big Lie” about a stolen 2020 election were defeated, as were other Trump-backed acolytes who sought to hijack the election machinery in key states so they can manipulate the results in 2024 and beyond.
We can’t rest easy — as you note, there’s still an abundance of hate and crazy out there — but it was reassuring.
And to answer your question, to me the biggest surprise was the red wave that turned out to be more of a puddle.
A president with a miserable approval rating, the worst inflation in decades, a mood among voters so sour it could curdle milk — and Democrats gained a Senate seat and just barely lost control of the House. I know very few who saw that coming.
Your thoughts on the midterms?
Chabria: Young people, especially women, responding to the overturning of Roe vs. Wade by voting gave me a lot of hope.
I think it showed that a generation that has already proven itself to be champions of a greater good through advocacy on issues such as climate change and gun safety is now flexing its power at the ballot box. Though they aren’t turning out as much as older voters do, they are far more likely to be Democrats, and progressive ones at that.
We saw that shift in L.A. politics, which were roiled by the racist recording of lawmakers plotting ways to divvy up power. Mayor Karen Bass rode that wave of change, beating out that billionaire guy. So did newly elected Councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez and city Controller Kenneth Mejia.
But here’s my first prediction, and it’s not all that wild: Not enough is going to happen at City Hall until we deal with Councilmember Kevin de León. Local politics has devolved into a reality show, drowning in distraction while the moral crises of homelessness and affordable housing continue to grow.
All that’s left is for Kevin to date a Kardashian.
Barabak: Which might be an improvement compared with the antics surrounding L.A. politics right now. Agreed, the epically self-absorbed De León has got to go.
Speaking of embarrassing, it was another sad-trombone year for California Republicans, who haven’t won a statewide office since George W. Bush was in the White House and “Cars” and “The Da Vinci Code” were filling movie theaters. (Streaming back then was pretty much limited to creeks and the like.)
The GOP nominated one of its most attractive candidates in years, the eminently qualified Lanhee Chen, and he was still waxed in his bid for state controller, sinking along with the rest of the Republican slate. True, the GOP did manage to pick up a U.S. House seat in the Central Valley. But Democrats fortified their state legislative supermajority, making the party less relevant in Sacramento than ever.
Let’s face it: California Republicans might as well change their logo to a skull and crossbones. The party had a toxic image even before Trump came along, and he made it exponentially worse.
Here’s a prediction: Forget about jobs, inflation and the economy, which voters cited as their main concerns in casting their ballots in November. We’ll be hearing a ton about Hunter Biden’s laptop and impeaching members of the Biden administration, thanks to the incoming Republican House majority, which may or may not be led by California’s own Kevin McCarthy.
That ought to play well.
Chabria: It will in Kern County, which is McCarthy’s home turf, and in the virtual Kern County, known as new Twitter. Along with embracing QAnon conspiracies, Elon Musk is amplifying far-right talking points and doing his best to undermine fact-based journalism. That is going to supercharge those Republican circus shows with a powerful platform to spread lies and propaganda unchecked.
It’s sad to see a California company gleefully nosedive into misinformation, after so many years of at least putting on a public show of fighting it. But next year in the House is going to be pure extremist performance art, with America as the captive and too-often captivated audience. We should force former Twitter owner Jack Dorsey to watch every House hearing as payback for doing this to us.
Barabak: Crawling back into my hole …
Chabria: Wait! Here’s some good news: California didn’t burn. Whether or not the recent deluge pulls us out of severe drought, we escaped the kind of deadly fire season that the last few years seemed to normalize.
Barabak: OK, feeling better.
Chabria: Good. To end on a high note, let’s take a moment to celebrate those who inspired or otherwise earned our respect.
I’m giving a shout-out to state Sen. Scott Wiener, who has not backed down despite a barrage of death threats. As a gay, Jewish legislator who embraces progressive and often controversial causes, including safe consumption sites for drug users, he’s an easy target.
Last week, police responded to a bomb threat at his home (his address has been published by haters) after the vile Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (just unbanned from Twitter) called him a “communist groomer.” In September, a California man was convicted of threatening Wiener and owning ghost guns and assault weapons.
So my unofficial courage award goes to the San Francisco Democrat for remaining a public servant despite the literal risk to his life. I don’t always agree with his politics, but the man has resolve.
And I’ll give credit to Jennifer Siebel Newsom for testifying against Harvey Weinstein. All of the women who testified against him are brave. But California’s first partner didn’t have to do it. I write a lot about the survivors of sex crimes, and I’ve seen the toll it takes on them to have their most devastating moments parsed by the public. She did it with quiet grace. And as her husband absolutely, positively does not run for president, she may turn out to be his best asset.
Barabak: I’ll give a shout-out to Pelosi, on the occasion of her not-retirement.
History will remember her as one of our most powerful and important House speakers; she wouldn’t have made the enemies she did if she hadn’t been so effective.
And her performance on Jan. 6, 2021, revealed in a new documentary by her filmmaker daughter, Alexandra, shows Pelosi’s ample personal courage and admirable coolness at a time of crisis. Not bad for someone treated as a lightweight when she first ran for office, pushing age 50 after raising five kids.
Finally, let me thank all of you readers — even the haters and losers, as Trump would say. (I kid!)
Anita and I both appreciate the time you take to read our work, and we wish you and yours the best for the holidays as well as a happy, healthy New Year.